Saturday, 30 June 2012

As we must appear to the hawk #4

In May I flew to Adelaide for the Children's Book Council of Australia 2012 Conference. It was great. Luckily I got a window seat for the Adelaide-Sydney trip. It was interesting. I hadn't been to Adelaide since the 80s!

Bye Adelaide. I didn't see all that much of you.

A quick glimpse of the SA coast

A cool round rainbow played on the clouds

It was interesting to watch the green fade

and the brown

and red 

take over

An oxbow in the making!

It's always fabulous to fly over Sydney, always something to see,
no matter which approach you are on, like the old Olympic site

Or the harbour that still makes me gasp every time I see it

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Friday, 29 June 2012

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Wow, what a story! This was my second reading of this amazing action-packed, dramatic tale, and I loved it even more than the first time. The story of a 12 year old girl, Karana, who becomes stranded, alone on her native island off the Californian coast in the 19th century. She survives for nearly 20 years on her own. Inspired by the real life story of Juana Maria, Island of the Blue Dolphins won the Newbery Medal in 1961.

Karana has grown up on the island, is schooled in the pattern of the seasons and the ways and means of living from the land and the sea. It is of course this knowledge that allows her to survive. Although she has to go against the tribal customs that forbid women from making weapons, and overcome many other challenges. It's often quite beautifully written. There are particularly lovely passages about the fish, birds and other creatures who share her world.

The sai-sai is the colour of silver and not much bigger than a finger. On nights when the moon shines full, these little fish come swimming out of the sea in schools so thick that you can almost walk on them. They come with the waves and twist and turn on the sand as if they were dancing. 

Karana makes some unusual alliances in the many years of her solitude, and there are very powerful environmental messages woven into the story. We see the beauty of the changing seasons and the vitality, intelligence and caring instincts of her animal companions. We also see the brutality of the hunters who come from the Aleutian Islands to hunt the plentiful otter for fur. I'm still reading Robinson Crusoe for the first time (and finding it a bit slow going to tell the truth), but it's interesting to understand how influential Robinson Crusoe was, and indeed books such as Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Kensuke's Kingdom draw so heavily that they have their own genre called Robinsonade.

Scott O'Dell said that "Island of the Blue Dolphins began in anger, anger at the hunters who invade the mountains where I  live and who slaughter everything that creeps or walks or flies." That anger is apparent. At the end Karana changes her ways too (perhaps somewhat improbably).

After that summer, after being friends with Won-a-nee and her young, I never killed another otter. I had an otter cape for my shoulders, which I used until it wore out, but never again did I make a new one. Nor did I ever kill another cormorant for its beautiful feathers, though they have long, thin necks and make ugly sounds when they talk to each other. Nor did I kill seals for their sinews, using instead kelp to bind the things that needed it. Nor did I kill another wild dog, nor did I try to spear another sea elephant. 

I read this book as my first ever read on the Kindle function of my ipad. The major difficulty was wresting the ipad from my son who naturally is addicted to several ipad games. I'm planning a future post on the ipad reading experience specifically, but I can say that I found it enjoyable on the whole, and so, whilst I haven't embraced the ereading phenomenon with both hands yet, it is very acceptable when I can't get hold of the actual book any other way.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 27/6/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

This weeks words come from Michael Scott's The Sorceress. I've dipped into The Sorceress before for some Wondrous Words. Here are some more. 

1. Bascinet (Noun)

Over that was a smooth metal bascinet helmet with a long nose guard. 

A medieval European open-faced military helmet. Wiki. 

2. Shamshir (Noun)

3. Claymore (Noun)

A curved shamshir sword dangled by his side and an enormous claymore sword was strapped to his back. 

Shamshir- curved Persian sabre. Wiki

Picture source

Claymore- Scottish variant of the late medieval two-handed longsword. Wiki

Picture source

4. Harpies (Noun)

She had already known the answer; nearly two centuries earlier, she had fought a nest of Next Generation harpies on the Palatine Hill above Rome in Italy. 

Greek mythology- a winged spirit best known for constantly stealing all food from Phineus.

Picture source

5. Cuirass (Noun)

The creature surged to her feet and brushed strands of sticky web off her leather cuirass.

A piece of armour, formed of a single or multiple pieces of metal or other rigid material, which covers the front of the torso. Wiki

6. Cantrips (Noun)

He had never forgiven her for defeating him on Mount Etna and over the centuries had spent a fortune collecting spells, incantations and cantrips that would destroy her. 

i) Scots. A magic spell; a witch's trick.
ii) British. A deceptive move; a sham. The Free Dictionary

7. Trilithon (Noun)

"Look for the third perfect trilithon to the left," Flamel whispered. 

A structure consisting of two large vertical stones (posts) supporting a third stone set horizontally across the top (lintel). Wiki. It's perfectly obvious when you think about it lith means stones, so three stones. 

Saturday, 23 June 2012


I first noticed these birds in New Zealand, even though they are endemic to Australia too. So, I think of them by their New Zealand name- pukeko. Anyway, pukeko is a much cooler name than Purple Swamphen which is their Australian name.

I've been thrilled to see some move in to my neighbourhood. They like living near open water, and have taken up residence in the new storm water collection areas near my house.

At first it was a surprise to see one

But then when you know where to look 

they're quite easy to spot

They build quite intriguing nests and platforms in the reed beds. One of the uses for their big gangly feet.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Best and Worst Of Guest Post

Today I'm very excited to be hanging with Alyce over on At Home with Books discussing the Best and Worst of Julian Barnes. Alyce runs a wonderful weekly feature called Best and Worst where a select few wax lyrical about some of our best and worst moments in reading.

Julian Barnes was a natural choice for me, as I don't think I've ever had such opposing views about an author's work.

I had great fun writing the post. You can see it here.

Saturday, 16 June 2012


June 16 is Bloomsday, a celebration of all things Ulysses. I've never read Ulysses, and let's face it I am completely unlikely to ever to read it, but I can still rejoice in Bloomsday. Not that I want to eat kidneys for breakfast all that much.

I was in Dublin in 2010 on Bloomsday and tried to do a Bloomsday walking tour, but it turns out that there are two tourist information centres in Dublin and waiting at the wrong one doesn't help. Still I took in some Bloomsday sights, aided by the Literary Walking Tour in my trusty Eyewitness Guide.

Bust of James Joyce in St Stephen's Green- possibly the most beautiful park in the world

Sweeny's Chemist where Leopold Bloom bought lemon soap.
Actually this makes me want to read Ulysses even less. 

Joyce was a student at Newman House from 1899-1902

What is a Dublin walking tour without a few pubs?

Davy Byrnes- apparently the setting of a famous scene in Ulysses

Joyce liked a drink at The Duke- as did Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O'Brien. 

The cult of Ulysses is still everywhere in Dublin

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 6/6/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

All my words this week come from the Stuff Quiz. The Stuff website is a New Zealand news website. It has an excellent daily quiz. Sure, lots of it is based on a knowledge of NZ politics, or rugby. Mainly rugby. At least I usually have a 25% chance for those questions. But lots of it is a broader general knowledge, clearly broader than I currently possess, as I often learn a new word. 

1. Erinaceous (Adjective)

Of, relating to, or resembling hedgehogs. The Free Dictionary.

The European hedgehog's scientific name is Erinaceus europaeus.

2. Bodger (Noun)

A labourer who traditionally lived and worked in the forest, making chairs from felling trees. The Free Dictionary. Other sites talk of bodgers making things of beech wood, or green, unseasoned wood. 

This makes me wonder at the origin of an Australian word bodgy, meaning dodgy or of poor workmanship, it must be related I should think. 

3. Culverin (Noun)

i) A long-range medium to heavy cannon used during the 15th, 16th, and 17th century.
ii) A medieval musket.

Actually a demi-culverin. Picture source.

4. Urupa

A Maori burial site.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Alison Lester

Alison Lester is one of the inaugural Children's Laureates for Australia, a job she shares with Boori Monty Pryor. I was very excited to hear her talk at the recent Children's Book Council of Australia Conference in Adelaide. Alison is a passionate advocate for reading and literacy, and she soon reminded us that once children learn to read they have a window into a world that's not their own.

Her presentation How to Turn Stories Into Books actually kicked off the first day. Alison spoke of her work with children all over Australia, but often in remote Aboriginal communities, how she spent time with the kids, and got them to tell their own stories, and then draw pictures. She then helps the kids turn these stories into actual books. And they were really amazing! I think this series of shots are all from a book she did with the children at Mornington Island (I didn't even know where that was!). Alison has been doing this work for many years, but is using the position as Children's Laureate to boost the profile of her activities. 

I suspect that I've photographed the colours a bit off. But you get the idea. These images were great! These kids should publish this book. I'd buy it.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

One day I'm going to learn to be less anxious when approaching a classic. Particularly a French classic. I didn't really know what to expect from Jules Verne. But I was slightly concerned. I should have known better. I was reading a master. 

Right from the start Jules Verne had me entranced by the story. I was initially surprised that it was peopled by German characters. But he uses it to poke some gentle fun their way. 

This pardonable infirmity of my uncle's was well known in the town and unfair advantage was taken of it; the students waited for the dangerous passages when he lost his temper and then burst out laughing, which is not in good taste, even in Germany.

Our narrator is Axel, the nephew of Professor Otto Lidenbrock, who lectures in mineralogy at the Johannaeum in Hamburg. Axel and his uncle live with the Professor's god daughter, Grauben, who is also engaged to Axel, and their servant Martha, who can knock out rather amazing meals at short notice. "Parsley soup, a ham omelette seasoned with sorrel, veal with prune sauce, and for dessert, sugared prawns, the whole accompanied by an excellent Moselle wine." Sugared prawns! Really? For dessert? I think this passage serves to show us the extraordinarily comfortable and somewhat extravagant life that Axel and the Professor lead in Hamburg. Sugared prawns indeed. 

The discovery of a small piece of old parchment hidden within the pages of an ancient Icelandic text excites the Professor no end. There is a mysterious message written in runes on the parchment, and leads our dynamic duo on a journey to Iceland, and from there of course to the centre of the earth. The journey from Germany to Iceland was no simple undertaking in the 19th century. There are wonderful descriptive passages of Copenhagen and Reykjavik, including the Stock Exchange in Copenhagen which has a spire made from the twisted tails of four bronze dragons. 

Picture source

I was particularly fascinated by their depictions of their Icelandic guide Hans, who is a hunter. Except he isn't really a hunter, he gathers eiderdown from nests. In one of those d'oh moments that pepper my life I realised that I'd never considered the term eiderdown. Turns out an eider is a large seaduck common in parts of the Northern Hemisphere. They're very attractive birds. Jules Verne tells us that the plumage of the eider "constitutes the chief wealth of the island", and he gives a fascinating account of 19th century eiderdown collection methods. 

Picture source

In early summer the female, a sort of pretty duck, goes and builds her nest among the rocks of the fjords with which the coast is fringed. After building this nest she lines it with fine feathers which she plucks from her belly. Then the hunter, or rather the trader, arrives and takes the nest, and the female starts her work all over again. This goes on as long as she has any down left. When she has stripped herself bare, the male takes his turn to pluck himself. But as his feathers are hard and coarse and have no commercial value, the hunter does not bother to take his nest. The female accordingly lays her eggs, the young hatch out, and the next year the harvesting of the eiderdown begins again. 

Quite sustainable I suppose, although somewhat stressful or annoying for the poor ducks, not sure how the modern methods compare. Soon the action becomes subterranean and the major part of the story begins. The language is wonderful, but of necessity it is rather geologic, although Jules Verne knew way more names for rocks than I thought possible. It was rather interesting to see Verne express concerns about the finite nature of fossil fuels in a book published in 1864! 

I enjoyed the more fantastic elements of the story too. Their journey underground was quite compelling for me, with lots of drama along the way, although Axel does turn out to be quite the fainter. And I totally loved that Professor Lidenbrock doesn't pack any water at all, just gin!  Journey to the Centre of the Earth is a cracking adventure tale at heart, I can see why it's been so enduringly popular over nearly 150 years. 

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Adelaide Central Market

I only had a free half day in Adelaide on my recent trip. I knew that one of the things I wanted to see was the famous Adelaide Central Market. And so I thought that I should head there for breakfast.

I knew I was getting close when I found a fabulous shop called Goodies and Grains.

And then bam I was in the market proper. 

Kangaroo meat is very delicious, but for some reason I rarely cook with it at home

Perhaps if I lived in Adelaide I'd think of it more often?

Sadly I didn't get to buy this for breakfast
 Everything was displayed to look fabulous

Or any of this
I knew I'd found some breakfast when I found this place. Yoghurt never looked so appealing!

Although honeycomb strewn with chocolate seemed slightly OTT for brekkie

The much more modest mango and raspberry with optional Anzac crumble!

You can't put Aussies off by calling something smelly it seems

Ah, almond croissants are perfect for second breakfast.

My favourite variety of pumpkin, called Jap or Kent here

Actually I could eat heaps more than kangaroo if I lived in Adelaide

Crocodile burgers anyone?
 There were so many varieties of food, this place had an intriguing menu, but it wasn't time for lunch yet, I had much more walking to do.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books